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TRACK LIST: 1. History Ends Here 6:55 2. God 7:40 3. Limitations 8:57 4. Simple 3:47 5. The Prophet-1 5:48 6. Singularity 4:40 7. Slow Down 7:48 8. The Madness of Crowds 4:59 9. Cicadas 6:47 10. The Prophet's Theme 4:54 SOLO PILOT: John Ludi – vocals; all instruments
Prolusion. In spite of the name, THE QUIET EARTH ORCHESTRA is a one-man band, the project of Detroit-born, Chicago-based singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist John Ludi, who worked on the album for almost ten years (from 1999 to 2008). After having been a recording artist for the past thirty years (notably with band Soft War), Ludi has recently announced his retirement from the music scene, due to his growing disillusionment with it and modern society in general.
Analysis. One-man bands are never easy to review, because – alongside the undeniable respect and admiration for someone capable of producing an album all by themselves – there are also some aspects that have to be tackled, often in a rather critical way. Very few musicians, in fact, are able to handle every instrument equally well, and therefore end up relying on electronics in order to provide some of the sounds – with very variable results. Moreover, not every gifted multi-instrumentalist is equally gifted as a vocalist, and all too often it is the insufficient vocals that mar an otherwise good album. “The Quiet Earth Orchestra” , John Ludi’s first (and apparently last) project under the same name, suffers from two main problems: the vocals and the drumming. While not particularly innovative, as a whole the album is a reasonably pleasant listen – a brand of heavily keyboard-based neo-prog with some interesting moments, and often thought-provoking lyrics (though somewhat misanthropic in bent – but more on that later). However, the unrelentingly tinny sound of the programmed drums (which obviously rule out the use of irregular time signatures), and Ludi’s flat, occasionally breathy vocal delivery contribute to making this effort less than memorable. Though, as I previously stated, the album is dominated by keyboards, the tracks often feature a lush instrumentation that is the fruit of modern technology. Nothing new here, as Ludi is only one of a long series of solo musicians who aim to replace a real band through the use of samples, MIDI programming, and other resources offered by the computer age. However, one cannot help wonder if doing things on a smaller scale by employing ‘natural’ resources (i.e. live musicians) would not result in more appealing, though perhaps less complex music. While I found the first three tracks on “The Quiet Earth Orchestra” somewhat underwhelming (even the 8-minute-plus Limitations, a competent slice of neo-prog with some vague Genesis echoes) – mainly on account of the less than impressive vocals and the insistent sound of the programmed drums (in my opinion way too high in the mix) – the album seems to improve as it progresses, though I believe it would have benefited from a somewhat shorter running time. The short, atmospheric Simple, one of the two instrumental tracks, based on the tasteful interplay between keyboards and acoustic guitar, proves that Ludi might have achieved better results if he had kept things a tad more streamlined, and perhaps opted for a wholly instrumental album. The second half of the album is taken up by a six-part suite called The Prophet-1, which contains some undeniably worthwhile moments. While Singularity would have been great without the weak vocals and the relentless programmed drums that mar the undoubtedly well-crafted keyboard work, Slow Down stands out as the best track on “The Quiet Earth Orchestra”, managing to overcome its shortcomings and offer some genuinely beautiful passages. Opening with a riff reminiscent of Black Sabbath (though played with keyboards), it develops into a nice mid-tempo punctuated by bass and piano, and then into a lilting, graceful guitar solo. The drumming is more understated and ‘natural’-sounding than elsewhere on the album, though the vocals prevent this track from fulfilling its potential for greatness. The album closes with another instrumental piece, the classically-influenced The Prophet’s Theme, which features horns and a string section (both of electronic origin) providing a background for some tasteful keyboard acrobatics. As a final remark, though I can understand the artist’s frustration with the current state of the music scene (as well as the whole of modern society), I have to admit I did not at all appreciate some of the comments I read on his website. Though I am as guilty as anyone of sometimes resenting my fellow human beings, I found some of his statements deeply disturbing - which (unlike the often interesting lyrics found on the album) does not paint the artist in a very good light.
Conclusion. Apparently fated to remain a one-off, “The Quiet Earth Orchestra” will be of interest to fans of neo-prog, and, in general, of keyboard-oriented progressive rock. On the other hand, those who are partial to good vocals, or to the presence of real drums, will find the album rather disappointing, in spite of the occasional moments of beauty. Definitely not bad, but not essential either.
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